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gwen: the state of the union. divided, united, anxious, worried, or all the above? we consider all the options tonight on "washington week." >> we don't quit. i don't quit. gwen: the president's big speech casts a spotlight on a critical political dilemma. >> we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. we face a deficit of trust. gwen: he took on washington. >> what frustrates the american people is a washington where every day is election day. gwen: but blames his own failings on poor communication. >> i take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the american people. gwen: and today the president took his complaint directly to his most consistent detractors,
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house republicans. >> i am one of 22 house freshmen. we didn't create this mess but we are here to help clean it up. gwen: what happens now? on job creation? on health care? on bipartisanship? >> we're going to look for common ground but we're not going to roll over on our principles. gwen: after a year of modest successes and setbacks, we assess the state of the union with the reporters covering the week. peter baker of "the new york times." dan balz of "the washington post." gloria borger of cnn. and john harris of politico. >> award-winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week with gwen ifill" produced in associate with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided
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by -- >> we know why we're here. >> to design the future of flight inside and out. >> it build tomorrow's technology in amazing ways. and reshape the science of aerospace forever. >> around the globe, the people of boeing are working together for the dreams of generations to come. >> that's why we're here. >> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by exxonmobil, the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. it's been a pretty remarkable week, the treasury secretary was on the hot seat, the chairman of the fed was reconfirmed, the president
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delivered his state of the union speech, and today he and house republicans went toe to toe live as the cameras rolled. in the end, agreeing to disagree. >> you've also said you want to take a scalpal to the budget going line by line. i want to give you that scapal. >> i'm not saying we'll agree on everything, whether it's health care or energy or what have you. but the way these issues are being presented by the republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don't have a lot of room to negotiate with me. gwen: what we saw there is what they call in the movies is failure to communicate. they were talking about plots and scalpels but they seemed to be communicating for the first time. you were in the room. >> i was in the room. it was a remarkable moment which is the cliche for the day
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but we haven't seen anything like this in a while. i've covered a number of presidents and would be hard-pressed to remember a time when we saw a president exchange views and debate with the opposite party for an hour and a half on live television. it's a remarkable moment particularly coming after the state of the union where he is so clearly on the defensive trying to recapture this magic of 2008 when he seemed to be a post partisan type of figure. gwen: did they seem like they were really -- was it tense in that room? >> i would say intense but not harsh, not bitter in a way we often think of partisanship in washington these days. it was remarkably civil, actually, and substantive. they didn't do a lot of finger wagging but felt strong about the things they were saying. in addition to debating issues, it was part marriage therapy in both sides venting their grieveances they held. president obama saying i'm not a bolchevik and you have to stop calling me a radical and the republicans have to stop saying you don't have ideas.
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there's a book full of them. gwen: how did it strike you? >> i thought it was therapeutic for all of them because they did get to vent at each other. and i think it's also very clear that the lifting of the veil which is what the white house had asked the republicans to do was part of the white house strategy to televise it and to talk to independent voters who want to see this kind of exchange without rancor, with civility, so there was tension, i can feel it just watching it. but it was very civil and very substantive discussion. >> i wanter -- wonder what dan thinks because he's been based in london and something you'd see in the house of commons between the prime minister and the opposition party. i thought it was great theater and i wonder if republicans felt maybe they got rolled. i do feel like the white house had by far the better end of it. gwen: he's the one standing at the podium with the light shining on him and in the end how mean were they going to be to him? he has better numbers than they
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do. >> right. and he's just made for that kind of interchange and i think he got the better of it. >> i think a president is always in command in a situation like that. they just have an advantage. it's one against the group. i thought the republicans were very tough and they kept coming at him and coming at him and coming at him. and i thought one of the interesting things about the way the president handled himself, sometimes when he gets in a situation, i've seen him in interviews, he can seem peevish if you're pressing him in an interview. he didn't show that and showed exasperation at times and fought back on stance on what he was being challenged about. but his demeanor kept him in command of that situation for 90 minutes. john, you're right. i had the same feeling of this was like question time in parliament in london. gwen: and i couldn't turn away. earlier in the week, i guess that would be yesterday, the republicans were accusing -- it's a long week. were accuse him of rhetoric and lecturing them. and this came out as a result of the state of the union speech. the president arrived there
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with his poll numbers and gridlock priorities and his chance he had to make his case to millions of americans. topic one for the president, demonstrating to the american public that more than anything else, he cares about the economy. >> we cut taxes for small businesses. we cut taxes for first-time home buyers. we cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. we cut taxes for eight million americans paying for college. [applause] >> i thought i'd get some applause on that one. gwen: not so much from the republicans anyhow. but how did the economy become number one, dan, in this election year when health care felt like it always had been -- this election year, i mean this state of the union. >> well, for the simple reason health care has consumed washington for the last seven or eight months to the detriment of everything else and to the detriment of the president's poll numbers. and i think that there has been
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a feeling both in the white house and inside the democratic party that they lost sight of the real issue that has caused problems for the rest of the country. most americans are more worried about the economy and jobs than they are about whether the health care bill gets through. it didn't diminish the importance of the health care debate but it's just reality. and i think that they came to a conclusion late in the year that they had lost sight of that, that one way or another, the public did not think they were paying attention, so they needed to use this moment, the biggest moment a president has in one year usually to command an audience to say i get that, i'm going to pay attention to this this year in a way i didn't last year. gwen: i was struck how the white house would concede on this front. they said they didn't communicate it well but they never said, "we didn't do enough." >> no, but regardless of what they say, i don't think we expect them to go out and wear a shirt. but the fact of the matter, it's a serious problem. health care was in fact an
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issue on which they asked to be judged in 2009. they said, ask us by what happens to health care. it was so urgent we kept the congress in on christmas eve, and now i think it's going to -- it seems clearly comatose and as near as i can tell there's an effort to push it to the side almost indefinitely. gwen: we'll talk more about health care but i'm curious about what they're going to do to address the questions about the economy besides saying the message, i care. >> they're going to do a jobs package. they're going to do small business tax cuts for small business which is what the president was selling today. and the republicans are skeptical of that. first of all, they asked him today about, would you accept an across-the-board tax cuts and that was not such a big hit with him. then they're skeptical that these small -- the cuts for small business are really going to be work. gwen: and a budget freeze? >> and a budget freeze -- well, they would like more of a budget freeze and they think
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the discretionary and nondefense freeze is just a drop in the bucket, which in fact it is. but this is is a president who felt he had to take a turn in this speech because he had to talk to the american people about what they care about, which is their economic future. i think the irony here is he might have started out with health care because he thought it was going to help get the deficit under control, and that kind of flipped on him. in a way. and now deficit is a larger issue to the american public than health care. gwen: 5.7% increase in g.d.p. today. that's pretty good news, right? >> great news. and for the economy, it's the fastest increase in economic growth in six years. the problem is that doesn't necessarily give us jobs. it's the old wagging indicator, the conversation we keep on having. we get the next jobs report in january and start to chip back down at it. vice president biden says he thinks by spring we'll be adding jobs, not subtracting
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jobs. that has to happen by then for political purposes for the democrats but people are pretty much in depression heading to the campaigns. gwen: what about the fall campaigns, that's driving 2010 and you have everybody in the house and a 1/3 of the senate, a little more, are out there trying to get their jobs back. and the president made a very big point about that today and on tuesday -- was it tuesday? >> wednesday night. gwen: basically saying that should not be the driving force in this argument about the economy. >> he said, and he's right, he said the american people don't want us here worrying about our jobs, they want us here worrying about their jobs. and so they have to do something. but the political context, both of the state of the union, and i think this remarkable show we saw today is all about the president trying to change the political dynamic that has turned against him over the last six months.
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the white house -- all democrats are well aware they're going to lose seats this year. the question is, how bad is it going to be? and i think that the white house view is that it will be good for all democrats if the president can move his poll numbers back up from around 50 or a little below to the mid 50's and higher. gwen: but it's not in his control if it's necessarily the economy unless he can make the stimulus plan seem like the great solution. >> well, i think that -- you know, you asked earlier how much are they going to be able to do? they spent most of the money they have to do somethin last year. i mean, the stimulus package and the bank bailouts and the auto bailouts left him with a pretty bare cupboard in terms of what he can do. so part of this will be smaller projects and a lot of it will be letor cal and a lot will -- rhetorical and a lot will be hope that what they have already will pay dividends in a few months. >> i think that's right and i think peter is right that jobs do lag behind.
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but i think perceptions of the projection of the trajectory is what matters and i do think the president can affect that by how he talks about the economy in the let otheral pitch -- rhetorical pitch he makes and people feel like we're moving in the right direction for the political impact to be felt. >> at what point do the republicans believe it's in their own self-interest to pass legislation with the president and help barack obama succeed? >> that's the question. is this going to be a year where any governing can take place or is it simply setting up the fall campaign? the president and the republicans today made the show at least of saying it's about some possibility of governing, but that's a really open question i think. gwen: let's talk about the think the president through in about health care. let's hear what the president had to say. >> now, let's clear a few things up. [laughter] [applause] >> i didn't choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my
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belt. and by now it should be fairly obvious that i didn't take on health care because it was good politics. [laughter] gwen: good policy if it works. not good if it doesn't. it has not worked. so has the white house decided, peter, what they're going to do on health care is just slow down? >> i think they are. as a practical matter, they have very little option at this point. the fact of the matter is they thought it was good politics a year ago. gwen: right. >> it's not that this somehow was a bitter pill they were forced to take. this was something that was part of the program that they ran on that they thought was successful. it's become bad politics so there's a little, you know, reinvention of history with that discussion the first time ever for a president, i'm sure. but health care now is at risk of becoming a campaign issue rather than an issue of legislation. >> you know, when you look at the state of the union speech, it took him about 25 or 30 minutes to get to health care. gwen: i noticed that.
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>> and that was so telling because this was their legislative priority and suddenly, no longer. >> and i think what was interesting, not just that it took him a while to get to it, but that he expressed resolve. i mean, that was the message he wanted. but what he did not have was any way forward -- any way out of this logjam, and this -- there have been any number of moments in the health care debate when people have said he needs to step up more forcefully, he needs to drive this to a conclusion. in a sense, if he wants to get this done, he's going to have to do that again. and that again puts the economy back into a secondary position if he has to invest a lot in getting the health care bill revived. gwen: kicking the ball down the road, john, isn't really the solution here, is it, that what he says is true is he believes health care truly has to be ficked and he's not going to back -- fixed and he's not backing away from that. >> what he has said and the democratic leaders in congress said we need comprehensive health care. it's hard to see how that happens by kicking it down the
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road. what could happen kicking down the road is some small pieces which republicans will say, ok, we can live with that, we'll declare victory with that as well. gwen: for instance? >> back when peter said he thought health care was going to be popular, i think that's right. but they always assumed it would be passed in the middle or at the most in the fall of 2009. rahm emanuel said we need to pass health care a year before the election so then we can frame it politically. they do not want 2010 to be defined by health care the way 2009 was even if it results in a victory. >> what jon said i think is right with the idea of possibly breaking up a big piece of legislation like health care, climate change, a lot of the other ones into more component part economic packages they can support. john boehner came out, the republican leader in the house, afterwards and said the president is right, some of these different pieces of the stimulus and legislation are things we can support if we broke them out in separate things as opposed to 2,500 page bill is something we can get
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done. >> for the president the politics of that are tricky because john boehner mentioned two things, nuclear power and offshore drilling. >> well, the president mentioned those two things. >> i understand it. but he put it in the context of a larger package. if that's all he gets, the base of the democratic party is going to be furious with him. >> that's the other thing because he's got democrats who are angry at each other in the wings of the party and democrats in the house are angry at democrats in the senate. gwen: let's remind people, democrats who are still unhappy in the house, the public option went away. democrats in the senate who are the ones that insisted on aabortion language. >> right. gwen: they're not going to meet. >> and liberals do not like this discretionary spending freeze, for example, and nancy pelosi, the house speaker, said well, if you're going to freeze discretionary spending, why not freeze defense spending with that? so he's got not only to unify republicans and democrats together to come up with
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legislation, let's unify democrats to agree to things. >> that's the interesting thing. presidents get in trouble all the time. he has no natural consistency to fall back to, all wings of the spectrum and so forth are mad at him for one thing or another. who does he turn to in this moment of difficulty, he doesn't have a national base. gwen: let's talk about that. why can't they all get along? some say priorities, some say policy. the president says politics. >> i know it's an election year. and after last week, it's clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual, but we still need to govern. just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics but it's not leadership. we were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. [applause] gwen: so is this the shift in tone that we've been promised, that the president talked about it today, he talked about it tuesday night, he set himself
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up as the great conciliator and said we need to stop acting like -- he said today, washington-like. >> there's an enormous hunger in the country particularly among the independent voters and they are the ones who have taken flight from the democratic party in these recent elections, including massachusetts, including in virginia at the end of 2009, an enormous hunger for sort of an end to politics as usual and for the parties to get along and not bicker. the problem with that is barack obama is, or was an ideologically ambitious president. remember the theory of 2009, the so-called big bang they're going to pass in one year comprehensive health care, they're going to pass cap and trade legislation, global warming and pass financial reregulation. all those things are big ideas. he can stand for big ideas or he can stand for bipartisanship and splitting the difference with the republicans. it's really hard to stand for both. gwen: well, especially when you have a lot of -- i listened to
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the republicans today who said, you know, we really like the president, he's a nice guy. it's nancy pelosi who is the problem. how is that any better? >> well, it isn't. and i think the problem for this president has been that i think he made a decision with health care reform that he was essentially going to contract it out to nancy pelosi and to harry reid and let the congress work its way because he didn't want to do what hillary clinton had done which was go up to congress with a bill and put it out there as a target. so in this move not to be hillary clinton and contracting it out to all of them and max baucus, the chairman of the senate finance committee, that didn't work with republicans because the members of congress may be indeed more partisan than the president of the united states. and so -- gwen: he said today i'm not an idealogue. that didn't impress them. >> in the room was there a little murmuring. >> there was murmuring. and then he says "i am not."
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gwen: so is he effectively -- no matter how much they deny it, i know they do at the white house, is he trying to set the reset button? is he trying to reorder the way we talk, the way we exchange, the way things get done? is that even possible? >> oh, sure. is it possible? i don't know. can he be the person he was or seem to be to the public in 2008? a lot of water is under that dam. president clinton obviously had moments in his presidency where he managed to turn in an agile fashion to a different way of doing things and changed people's opinions. a year ago we would have said the republicans can't possibly come back in any short amount of time and here they are a year later. gwen: you may have said that at this table. >> yeah. a year from now i wouldn't predict we would have any clue. >> any president, especially one with personal political skills barack obama has all the power he needs to reclaim control of the agenda. what i don't think barack obama can do and i think the white
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house is kind of coming to terms with this, he cannot succeed by the standards that he himself laid out a year ago. if barack obama of january of 2009 were to judge the results of barack obama of 2010 by his own rhetoric, he would fail that test. now, he can change the terms of the test. that's what they're going to have to do. i don't think the white house itself has sort of reckoned with the fact that the big bang strategy of doing it fast in one year has failed, what is the new strategy? gwen: they know it's failed but haven't figured out what the new strategy is? >> i don't think they have a new strategy to marry their political goals with their policy goals. >> when you ask people at the white house all along, aren't you trying to do too much, the answer is, what is it we shouldn't do? gwen: that's what he said during the state of the union. >> right. so he's still saying that. he wasn't apologizing. >> he didn't retreat much at all this week. >> no. >> i think you're right, now that health care will be on the back burner, he didn't get to
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it until 20 minutes into the speech. he didn't say rhetorically let's try something different. >> i had the feeling in watching him in the state of the union and again today that he is trying to rechannel the obama of the campaign in part to reidentify himself with the public. you make a very good point which is he won the presidency without being embeded to any art of his party, which means he doesn't have certain constituencies there rallying for him but he did have some connection with the american people. and i think he senses the anger that's hit the democratic party the hardest is an anger that is focused on washington itself, not just on democrats or just on the president. gwen: he's trying to solve -- >> he's trying to identify himself with that anger as a way to take a little bit of it off what the democratic party has felt. gwen: i'm intrigued and this will be our final thought
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around the table, which is he gave an interview this week where he said he'd rather be a one-term president than give up basically on his goals. >> a good one-term president. gwen: a good one-term president. that's true. he didn't say he failed trying. but i'm curious, is that what he's signaling now? that's not backing up. >> i think any good one-term president would tell you he wanted to be a two-term president. the fact is it you can't have eight years you can't get a lot of things you want done. the idea you can put principle first and forget about politics is obviously not going to happen. >> i was talking to a democratic political strategist this week who said to me, i didn't want to hear him say that. that's not what incumbents in the house who are facing real problems want to hear, that this president wants to be a good one-term president. >> i'd be stunned if we hear that line again. the fact successful presidents become two-term presidents. gwen: that's what he needs to do. final thought. >> and i think that he still is a president who has great ambitions for his presidency. and he intends to do whatever
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he can to try to succeed on that front. gwen: it will keep us all busy. thank you, everyone. so much happens beyond the state of the union this week. tim geithner answering the congress, ben bernanke controversial reconfirmation and justice alito's eye roll. we're out of time here but the conversation continues online along with your questions on the washington week webcast extra, and find us at and keep track of daily developments on the pbs "newshour" and we'll see you around the table here next week on "washington week." good night. gwen: join the "washington week" conversation online, email your questions for the webcast extra to washingtonweek >> corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by --
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>> i've been at boeing for 35 years. most people try to get rid of algae and we try to grow it. it's beautiful and comes in red and blue and golden and green. how it can be converted to biofuels we some day can run our cars on. using algae to form biofuels means we're not fighting with the food supply and it helps solve the greenhouse problem as well. we're making a big commitment to figure out how much algae can help to meet the fuel demands of the world. >> additional funding is provided by boeing, the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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Washington Week
PBS January 30, 2010 1:30am-2:00am EST

News/Business. (2010) Analysis of President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address. (CC) (Stereo)

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